The original post for this episode can now be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 500 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the show we’ll revisit what we learned in our first 499 episodes with some of the folks who know it best. We welcome back Scriptnotes producers Stuart Friedel, Godwin Jabangwe, and Megan McDonnell, along with longtime editor Matthew Chilelli, and our current producer, Megana Rao.
We’re going to be enlisting them to help answer listener questions, plus we’ll play a game with two Scriptnotes super fans. Craig, you love games.
Craig: And I love Scriptnotes super fans. Are there are only two Scriptnotes super fans? Or did we select them from a number of Scriptnotes super fans?
John: I put out a call on Twitter asking for like who has listened to every episode of Scriptnotes. And these are people who raised their hands and said like they listened to every episode of Scriptnotes, so we will see if they were listening carefully.
Craig: These are the most damaged of our fans.
John: And in our bonus segment for premium members we’re going to turn the tables and our producers will ask Craig and I if we remember a damn thing about what we said over these 500 episodes.
Craig: I mean, the answer is no. I’m just going to tell you right now. It’s no. I mean, well we’ll see how we do. I’m just so happy to see all of these – so we’re looking at them on Zoom. We can see their fresh faces. It’s nice. I saw a very tiny mini Friedel walk by. That was wonderful to see. And I’m also, obviously I’m happy to see Megan and always happy to see Matthew. But particularly happy to see Megana today because there was a weird Twitter rumor that she was just leaving. And I don’t know if they meant leaving the show, or leaving the world. Did you see that Megana?
Megana Rao: Oh my god.
Craig: Yeah. Like on Twitter. Someone was like, oh, it was like what will happen in the 500th episode? And one of the choices was Megana Rao leaves. And then, you know, it’s Twitter. That’s all they needed. And they were off and running.
Megana: I’m going to be here for 500 more. Sorry Twitter.
Craig: Oh yeah.
John: So Stuart Friedel has our longest history. He has over 200 episodes of produced Scriptnotes. So Megana has been doing it for a good long time, but she’s got a lot of runway ahead of her if she wants to beat that. But I think the reason there could have been speculation on Twitter is because we had promised that there was going to be a big announcement in today’s show, and so we should get to the big announcement, the big news. Because for nearly 10 years Scriptnotes has only been a podcast that Craig doesn’t listen to.
John: And soon Scriptnotes will be a book that Craig won’t read.
Craig: Right. Right. And this is wonderful. Like all of the ideas that we have on the show, I didn’t have this idea. I like to say we had ideas because technically we had them. If I and you together have ideas, and you come up with all the ideas, we had ideas. This book is one of them.
John: There’s been talk of doing a Scriptnotes book for a long time and we ended up doing a Scriptnotes Listener’s Guide a while back just because it was a way to sort of get that out there. We have transcripts going all the way back to the very start of the show, but we looked at sort of like well what if we were to just bind the transcripts and it would be like 100 volumes. There’s like no good way to do this.
Craig: Oh, I think we should have gone that way actually. I think we should have done a full 100.
John: Just take up a whole library. It should just be Scriptnotes.
Craig: Yeah. Scriptnotes Volume 78.
John: You pull that out and flip through it. Little codecs.
Craig: And I want it to look like those books that Gandalf was looking through when he was trying to figure out if the one ring was really the one ring.
John: Mm-hmm. Or the Game of Thrones libraries where the books are all chained up. That’s another way we could do it. You have to go to a place to get to the Scriptnotes information.
Craig: The Citadel, obviously.
John: The Citadel. So instead we are going to have a book that is properly edited. So Chris Sont who does our weekly-ish newsletter called Inneresting is doing the editing on the book. It’s going to have interviews with many of the fantastic guests we’ve had on the show. Plus sort of the best of on different topics, nicely condensed and compressed. So it will still be me and Craig talking but sort of an optimized version of us talking about all the things we talked about over these 499 episodes.
Craig: This is our 500th episode.
John: And I did not predict we’d get to here.
Craig: No, well first of all there was a while there where I didn’t think anyone was going to get to here. So, things are a little more stable out there in the world. But 500 episodes, it’s not quite 10 years of Scriptnotes, but it’s freaking close.
John: We’re getting close. Yeah. So we made a list of our previous Scriptnotes guests and there were so many here and Megana this afternoon was like, “Oh, what about Ice Cube?” I forgot there’s a bonus episode with Ice Cube that hadn’t made it onto the list. So, Craig, let’s quickly run through who our guests have been, because there were surprises here for me as well.
Craig: Oh, in terms of who we’ve had in the past?
John: Yeah. All right, so just in the Bs we have Jason Bateman, Noah Baumbach, David Benioff, Alec Berg, Rachel Bloom.
Craig: OK, then we have one C. Ice Cube. Which I don’t know if that – I guess Cube is the last name there. But we have Ben Falcone, Kevin Feige of Marvel, and we also have Dana Fox.
John: Greta Gerwig, David Goyer, Mari Heller, Lisa Joy, Mindy Kaling, Lawrence Kasdan.
Craig: I mean, that’s pretty good. Continuing with our final K, David Koepp. Lawrence Kasdan to David Koepp is strong. And then it goes to Jennifer Lee, very strong. We also have Natasha Leggero, Damon Lindelof, Riki Lindhome, Phil Lord.
John: Yeah. Julia Louis-Dreyfus was here in our little recording studio.
Craig: How about that? That was pretty awesome.
John: Kelly Marcel, a frequent guest. Of course she moved to England. Christopher Markus. Melissa McCarthy. Rob McElhenney.
Craig: Stephen McFeely, Aline Brosh McKenna, Chris McQuarrie. Just the MCs alone is impressive. Chris Miller. Chris Nee. Ashley Nicole Black.
John: Jonathan Nolan. BJ Novak. Ryan Reynolds was on the show.
Craig: Ryan Reynolds.
John: Dailyn Rodriguez. Seth Rogan. Dan Savage. Do you remember we did a Dan Savage episode?
Craig: The Dirty Episode. Of course.
Craig: And then finishing off we had Justin Simien, Malcolm Spellman, Rawson Marshall Thurber. David Wain. Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Dan Weiss. And Rebel Wilson.
John: And that’s not all the guests. That’s just sort of the big names we’ve talked to over these–
Craig: Those are the ones we liked.
John: Those are the ones we liked.
Craig: No, we liked them all.
John: We liked all of them. But we’ve had a lot of other people come through here and share what they knew. So I’m excited to make a book. If you want more information about the book go to Scriptnotes.net. Basically all that you will see there is a little place for a mailing list, because we send you sample chapters/information about it.
We’re not quite sure how we’re doing it. We’d love the book to come out in 2022. We could go through a normal publisher. We could publish it ourselves. We’ll see what makes the most sense. But people have asked for the book for a while now and we’re going to try to do it.
Craig: I’m excited. I think this will be the hottest Christmas item of 2022.
John: A safe bet for 2022.
John: All right. So usually on this program we answer listener questions. And so our producers go through the questions and pull them and put them in the outline and we answer those questions. Today I want to flip those a bit. These are still listener questions, but you and I will ask the questions kind of of our producers. Because these are folks who are out there working in the industry and may actually know things that we don’t know about these things.
John: Let’s start with a question from Sarah. Sarah writes in, “I had a question for you all about how you met and started the podcast. You sort of addressed it in a season one episode where you basically explained that you weren’t friends beforehand, but you didn’t say much else. If you covered this in a later episode I will find out soon enough, but if you did not I’d love to hear more about how this partnership came to be and how your friendship has evolved over the years.”
So, Stuart Friedel was the very first Scriptnotes producer. He was working as my assistant. Stuart, what can you tell us about the early days of Scriptnotes?
Stuart Friedel: About how you and Craig met?
John: Or just what Scriptnotes was like. Because Scriptnotes was I think just kind of a “hey I think I’m going to do a podcast” idea. I kind of remember having the notion of doing it. And, here Stuart, do this work. So talk to us about what the early episodes felt like.
Stuart: I mean, you pretty much nailed it. I remember I joined, and within maybe two or three weeks of me starting you had this idea. It may have even been like an inkling of a notion before I joined. But pretty much right away.
If you look at the number of episodes per week you can break that down and that’s almost exactly the amount of time that I worked for you. And so Craig had a blog that was not quite as active as yours.
Stuart: By the time you were talking to me about it you already knew that Craig was going to be your partner on it. I remember like drilling a hole in your desk so that we could install this microphone arm. And going to some weird, the sort of electronics shop that doesn’t exist anymore.
Stuart: To get windscreens and get microphones and figure all that out.
John: Or Amitron.
Stuart: But if you listen to the early episodes, I mean, I edited them to start and you can really tell the jump in quality when Matthew joined. And also frankly if you look at episode length they started at 20 minutes and I think they pretty quickly got up to about where they are now. I think that you guys really – it became second nature pretty quickly, but there certainly is an early batch of episodes where you’re not quite the well-oiled machine yet.
And then from there, I mean, in some ways the bulk of my job for the next bunch of years was getting Scriptnotes at first edited, but then just everything in place for Matthew to do his work. Getting everything in place to upload it to the blog. And over the years it really evolved about how it went onto the blog and what the blog looked like. And that’s all technical stuff. Yeah, you had a pretty good handle on it.
John: So Matthew, let’s segue over to you. Because you took over the editing reins from originally me and then Stuart and sort of just did a much better job of it. You came to Scriptnotes kind of in a weird way, because you just started writing outros for it. So when did you find out about Scriptnotes and when did you start deciding to become more involved?
Matthew Chilelli: I found out about Scriptnotes through your blog. It was something where I went to school at Ithaca people would talk about you’ve got to check this out. It’s just a really easy way to find a quick answer if you’re trying to write a screenplay or if you have some question about moviemaking. And then I started listening to the show. And when you asked for outros somewhere around Episode 98 or so I was I guess first through the gate. And that I think was our introduction was through music, not through editing.
John: I was trying to figure it out today. I think you took over editing on Episode 152. It’s the first one I see you credited as the editor. And weirdly the job of producer and editor are kind of fungible in podcast land. So when you hear credits on a lot of podcasts you won’t hear as editor as a description because it will say produced by and that person actually was cutting the audio. Really we tried to keep it very separate here. So our producers are sort of organizing the show and getting all the material together, but you are the person who is fixing all of my mistakes and making it sound good.
Matthew: Yeah. And there were fewer and fewer of them as time goes on. I think you’ve both gotten very good at editing yourselves.
Craig: Yeah, you know, try and not stick you with too much trouble when we mess up. But am I allowed – can I answer the question also a little bit?
John: Please, please.
Craig: Just to get a little sappy for a second. Because Sarah is asking how our partnership came to be. Just because John called and said do you want to do this and I was like D’OK. Because I didn’t want to write a blog anymore. But when you ask how our friendship has evolved over the years, you’ve kind of all heard it. This is it.
This is how we became friends. It’s not like we were friends-friends when we started. We were really just like podcast partners. I don’t know how else to put that, you know. And we got to know each other through doing the show. We got to understand each other through doing the show. And we became friends by doing the show. And I really do believe that – if I may use the word “love” if I may – that love is a function of time and commitment.
And John and I are both married people, so we obviously get the value of commitment and time. And that’s I think what you hopefully have heard over almost 10 years is the function of time and commitment to each other. So, in a way John this is like our anniversary.
John: Yeah, it is like our anniversary. We were acquaintances beforehand. And we were friendly beforehand, but we weren’t really friends. And I remember on some episode I said, some early episode, we can find the transcripts, I said like, “Well, it’s not like we’re friends off mic.” I said something like that. I could hear your heart breaking there a little bit.
Craig: Oh, oh, I see.
John: It was a mean thing for me to say.
John: But also we’ve become better friends because we play Dungeons & Dragons. We do things that are not the podcast now, too, in ways we didn’t before. We were just two guys who did the podcast before.
Craig: Exactly. And I think we trust each other. When you do a show like this there’s a certain amount of trust that happens. You rely on each other and you trust each other. And that trust over time is rewarded. Sometimes with people you trust them and over time it’s punished. And that’s how you know things are bad. Your trust was punished. And that has not happened. So it’s been just a very, I mean, for me it’s been incredibly easy.
Obviously I don’t get paid. Everyone knows that. That I’m being ripped off on the daily. But, it’s very easy for me to just show up. I don’t have to do anything. You do everything. It’s so nice. It’s so nice. It’s worth the money I lose. Now I’m saying that I’m losing money, by the way.
John: Like it’s costing you. Although, it did cost you in the early days because originally we were actually hosting the files on Amazon.
John: And it was costing us like $200 or $300 a month, just the storage fees for it.
Craig: Yeah. But it was a nice expense because it meant people were listening. By the way, how many people listen now? Every now and then I’ll ask you. This is how clueless I am. Where are we at?
John: Megana, what’s our weekly listenership right now?
Megana: I would say weekly we have about 30,000 listeners.
John: And our premiums are in the 3000s now.
Craig: Every time I hear a number I just say wow. It doesn’t matter what it is. Honestly, if it were 12 people. You hear like 12 people listen every week I would be like wow.
John: I will say that it’s great to see the total numbers, but when somebody who I really respect in the industry says they listen to the show that’s incredibly gratifying to me as well. When you find out you have some fans out there.
Craig: It certainly is well listened to here in town. And I don’t mean Calgary.
John: All right. Let’s go onto Brett in Los Angeles. He writes, “Your podcast really helped me after Covid destroyed my industry and I had to take a mind-numbing overnight job to pay the mortgage. Now I’m considering moving away from Los Angeles because it is just too difficult to stay afloat here with a house and a pregnant wife, while also chasing the dream of being a working writer. So my question is pre-Covid you guys have discussed the difficulties of living outside Los Angeles. But now with Zoom has that changed? What about writer rooms? Would it be impossible to be staffed if I were in Dallas or Nashville?
“I don’t have a lot of traction now, so maybe it’s a moot point. Still, I believe in my work and I worry there might never be traction if I leave.”
So, Megan and Stuart, you guys have both done a lot of work this last year on Zoom. Stuart, you’ve been in writer’s rooms. Megan, I think your WandaVision experience was mostly pre-lockdown. But what do you think about Brett’s situation and how viable would it be for Brett to be working mostly remotely? Megan, we’ll start with you. What do you think?
Megan McDonnell: I think definitely while writer’s rooms are still over Zoom I don’t see why not. I feel – and like meetings and stuff. I feel like the trick about living in LA is just making friends in LA and that’s such a big part of how you hear about stuff. I want to believe that it’s becoming more inclusive as far as where you can be living and find your way in. But I just don’t know. What do you think, Stuart?
Stuart: Yeah. I mean, we have no idea what the – first of all, how long this tail is going to be, the end of Covid, and second of all what things are going to look like as we get out, come out the other side even. But I am currently in a writer’s room with six people. Two of those people left LA when lockdown started and as far as I know don’t have plans to come back any time soon. I don’t know how right that is.
But I also know that as our show in general moves back into an office the writer’s room is the last and least urgent group to move back into an office. I think we’re probably going to stay on Zoom for the foreseeable future. I don’t see why we wouldn’t. It works really well for us.
I don’t know that it works really well for every writer’s room. I’ve heard friends that really don’t like it and they’re eager to get back into in-person in LA. So I think there’s just so many moving parts. But I think you hit the nail on the head that it’s more about getting the jobs. And it helps to be in those social circles, in those conversations in LA. Also though just being relevant and being seen like in offices. I think you make such a stronger impression when you shake somebody’s hand than you do over Zoom. And I’m kind of eager to get back into that.
I can’t say for a fact that it’s impossible, because it currently is possible. I just don’t know if any of my friends who have moved away would have gotten the jobs that they can do from far away if they weren’t in LA when they got the job in the first place.
John: Now, Megan, I know you’ve been pitching on some projects during Zoom and having to do that. How do you like that versus doing it in person? Congratulations on your Marvel movie which is about to start shooting. When you got that that was an in-person situation. But the stuff since then has been a lot of sort of Zoom stuff. And how are you finding the difference? Are you able to land those jobs doing it on Zoom?
Megan: Great question. I have not thought about not getting jobs because of Zoom. [laughs] I think that it’s nice to be in person because it’s easier to communicate excitement in person. I feel like that’s half the battle of pitching is this idea is so exciting, don’t you think? And they’re like, wow, I guess it is. I don’t know. I haven’t minded the Zoom stuff. It feels more casual or something. There’s something nice about it.
But I do think in-person is helpful, too, if you have a complicated idea that requires a lot of like – I pitched something that involved a lot of like John’s artboards. He does these boards when he’s pitching, and so I stole that. And did a lot of acting with the boards and with pieces and stuff. And if it’s like a visual thing I feel like, I don’t know, people do it over Zoom, too. I don’t know.
John: Yeah. I’ve been able to do it on Zoom, too. I think you’re right in the sense of like when you’re in those meetings when you have to get a sense of like are they really getting it, are they responding? Is this the right vibe? Or should I throw everything else out? That’s really hard to gauge on Zoom. But those initial meetings or just like “hey how are you,” happy not to do it. We said this on the podcast a bunch of times. If I never have to drive to Santa Monica in the afternoon I’ll be just delighted.
John: It’s a beast.
Stuart: Takes away your podcast commute time where you can really listen. I do think like assuming there is a concrete number of jobs, which I don’t think is a fair assumption, but it’s the same advantage and disadvantage as everybody else has. I have found though that anecdotally it seems like people expect a deck.
Decks I think were rising in popularity, like PowerPoint presentations precipitously even before this, but now it seems like everybody seems to want that or be doing that. So, I’ve kind of gone the opposite and for the pitch I’m doing now I have tactile maps and props and I start just looking at you and then throughout my pitch I turn my camera and there’s a map on the wall. I don’t know whether that’s been good for me or not, but at the end of the day it feels a little bit like more and more the job of a screenwriter strains towards you also have to be a PowerPoint maker and you also have to be a song and a dancer. And I think Zoom has made that even more so the case. So I’m eager to get back in a room.
John: Cool. Emily in Los Angeles wrote, “I recently brought a script to a new writer’s group I joined and it got decimated. This was the first time this group had seen any of my writing and we spent about two hours going through each scene and pretty much talking about all the reasons it sucked. I’m always open to criticism and have received constructive feedback on the script from other writing groups I’m in. But at the two-hour mark my feelings were hurt. The notes didn’t feel constructive or actionable. They felt mean-spirited and based on personal preference.
“I took a break from the script and have recently come back to it, but I can’t get their notes out of my head. Now I’m doubting every scene and choice I’ve made. It’s making me want to abandon this script forever. How do I get these notes I disagree with out of my head and get back to writing the movie I want to make?”
So Megan and Megana, you guys have the most experience of anyone on this call in writers groups and sort of like groups of writers who are coming together voluntarily to talk over their work. So first let me start with it sounded like something went wrong with this writers group. What you diagnose what’s happening here? Megana, why don’t we start with you – what’s your reaction to what Emily is experiencing?
Megana: It kind of sounds like maybe there was somebody who had a bad vibe and everybody jumped on. And maybe the negativity was infectious. Something that I’ve learned through writers groups is I think they should be like your midwives of your story, like very supportive and coaching you along the way. And I’m very lucky to have that in my writers groups which have included Megan who is awesome.
I think the other thing is like whenever I get really just harsh, horrible feedback I usually come to the conclusion weeks later that the person is actually just not the right audience for this material. And I’ve also found that it’s usually coming from someplace of insecurity.
For Emily I would advise you like this is not about you, or your script. It sounds like this is a weird group dynamic thing and maybe you should find a new writers group.
John: Megan, if this were happening in a group that you were leading would you have tried to – is there a way to sort of stop that from happening? Is there a way to head that off with the pass?
Megan: I agree that sometimes it can get negative. And it’s easy to just find good things about it to say, even if it’s just to like recalibrate the tone of the room. You can always find something cool that’s working, or that’s good, or that is interesting. Or ask questions. Like, wow, this choice, this is a choice. What was that about? And then that can be helpful.
I think for being a writers group participant I think part of it is also so much like, OK, what is this writer going for and how do I help them get there instead of how do I make this the script that I would have written.
Craig: I have umbrage. I have so much umbrage over this.
John: Craig, go for it.
Craig: I think that Megan and Megana are showing how lovely they are, and just how instinctively nice and empathetic they are. But I am instinctively not. And I think that regardless of what Emily wrote, maybe what Emily wrote was bad. It happens. Sometimes you write bad things. But two hours of kicking around something like that? Two hours? That’s toxic.
And that point I worry about the writers group dynamic where everybody is just using feedback to puff themselves up. They’re just kicking somebody because they feel important. It makes them feel like they’re in the business or something. I don’t know what it is.
I went to one writers group once, many, many, many, many years ago. And I left and thought I will never, ever, ever go back to that group again because it just felt like somehow this group had organized itself into like, you know, there’s like the alpha personality that is like everyone just agrees that person is the best. Like in acting classes everyone just knows that person is the best. They’re not. They’re not the best. They’re just the most whatever. You know?
So, Emily, I would say if you’re in a writing group and they spent two hours going through every scene and talking about all the reasons it sucks that’s not a good writing group. That’s not a writing group. I don’t really know what the point is.
It’s hard to write things. And the fact that you felt like you’re doubting every scene and choice you made, of course you are. I would. I don’t think I would be able to come back to that script. I would feel so bad. We are emotional creatures and to be damaged like that for two – you say at the two-hour mark my feelings were hurt and I’m almost like at the two-minute mark I’m sure your feelings were hurt.
I mean, for two hours? What’s wrong with those people? How could the notes be constructive or actionable after two hours? I would run. I would run from that group.
John: Now, do you guys have any suggestions for, like ground rules for a writers group. Do you guys talk at the outset like this is how we’re going to do things? I see some nodding there. So Megana what are some ground rules you’d like to have?
Megana: Sure. When we first start meeting with a writers group I feel like we talk about how we’re doing it for fun and to encourage each other. And just constructive feedback. So if there’s something you disagree with, like Megan said, asking questions, bringing it up as this is a choice that you made, where were you going with this, so that you can give them the benefit of the doubt if something is not working for you.
But we try pretty hard to just set some ground rules that negativity or criticism that is not actionable, please do not bring that into the writers group.
Megana: I really appreciate when people, because you guys said it in the notes meeting with execs that you don’t really like pitches, but I love whenever somebody is giving me a note if they just pitch, so I get a better sense of what they’re talking about. I feel like it helps me get momentum.
Craig: Well it’s certainly better than just kicking something for two hours. Sometimes when I read things I really only have a negative criticism. And the negative criticism is “this is bad.” You know, now I can dress up bad nicely by saying, “It just feels like none of the characters seem real to me. The dialogue isn’t feeling real and it’s not quite sounding like the way people talk.” That takes ten seconds. What is the point of going on and on about it? That’s the part that I don’t understand.
I don’t recognize the value of that at all.
Megana: Two hours seems ludicrous to be spending on one person’s script.
Megan: Yeah. In any case, like that’s so long to be talking about one person in the group’s script.
Craig: It’s long to be talking about anything. You know? It’s so hard to talk about anything for two hours, but much less – and you know the person is sitting there and you’re like everybody – somebody had to get up and pee and come back and continue criticizing her. That’s too long.
John: It is.
Megan: I also can see, sometimes if that’s the case where maybe you don’t like a script and maybe it’s just generally not appreciated in the group, then sometimes you can be like, OK, pitch us the idea and then you can kind of get a sense of like, OK, what is exciting to you about this script? And that can be helpful in reframing what notes you give.
Stuart: Yeah, if you have two hours of micro notes then you should be giving five minutes of macro notes.
Craig: Correct. And you can’t have two hours of micro notes. You can’t. You can’t. It’s outrageous.
John: Yeah. If you’re producing this movie and it’s going into production and you have to sort of do it last thing. I imagine you’ve had two-hour meetings with Lindsay Doran.
Craig: I’ve had two-hour meetings with Lindsay Doran about two pages.
Craig: But they were these conversations that were predicated on the fact that she was happy. And I was happy. And so the question wasn’t why is this bad. The question was well what if, or OK, here’s a thought. And so it was creative and constructive in the best way. But, OK, now here’s the problem with this scene. Because you know every time they turn the page she was like, “OK, we got over that.” And then they’re like, “OK, now let’s start why we hate this new season. And it’s like, “Oh god.”
And it never stopped. I just want to hug Emily and buy her lunch.
John: Craig, do you want to ask the question here from Austin?
Craig: Here we go. Austin asks, or says, “I had a realization about myself and my writing the other day. I don’t write the people in my life into my work. I realized this the other day after having a disagreement with a friend. I was angry with the person and I began to really analyze why I thought they were acting the way they were. In that moment of analysis I realized that even though I’m an observant person I’m never endeavored to use the people closest to me, even people I dislike, as characters in fiction. I sat with that thought for a little while and asked myself even if I thought I could. And the answer I felt coming back was a resounding no.
“It felt like the betrayal of an intimacy maybe. I’m not totally sure. I come from a background in nonfiction in the social sciences, so observing and presenting the lives of others isn’t new to me. But fictionalizing them for my own work feels odd. I was just curious if this is an issue you,” I guess he meant John, “or Craig ever deal with.” Or you, Godwin. “Or if using individuals in your own life as the bases for characters is something that comes totally natural to both of you? Am I missing a major tool in my writing by not doing this? Do you have any suggestions on how to work on this?”
Godwin, boiling all that down, what’s your feeling about taking the people you know in your real life and using them as inspiration for the characters in the work you write?
Godwin Jabangwe: I think it’s a great thing to do. What I would suggest is to combine three or four different people into one. Pick what you need from that one person and then you build a character. Don’t make a facsimile copy of that person. So if you have like three or four people that you know, or you want one specific thing, then you take that one specific thing and then you build a whole other character that’s not a direct mirror reflection of that person. I think that’s how I would go about that.
John: Megana, I was also thinking about you because having read your scripts you are very specifically portraying a kind of, because of your history, people I feel like you know very specifically. Are any of those people based on specific people in your own life? Do you feel like you’re asking permission? Are you sort of taking them in? What’s your relationship to some of the characters you’re portraying in your scripts?
Megana: That’s a great point. I feel most comfortable taking from my own life and sort of making fun of things that I personally have done. And if anything is inspired by – like I have one script inspired by a bunch of Indian aunties that I grew up with. And that I feel like I am doing with so much love and it’s not exact things that they’re saying.
But I had a friend who actually wrote a script with dialogue that we had had together lifted.
Megana: And, yeah, I’m curious to hear your guy’s thoughts.
Craig: What about you, John? Do you do this? Is it part of your tool box?
John: I do to some degree. And so I was even just this morning on a Zoom and I was thinking back to an early script I’d done that got made and it was like, oh yeah, I wouldn’t want to say that character is based on this real life person, but it was important that I actually knew that this person could exist. It was sort of an extreme character. And it’s like, oh no, no, no, there’s a real person who is that person who can do those things. And so I think it’s important that you should be able to imagine somebody in real life being those characters. So if you don’t even have the exact – it’s not based on one person that that person could exist.
This comedy that I’m doing right now I’m writing for some very specific actors with very specific voices knowing that we may not get those actors. But I know my sense will be at least one person in that role. And so then if it makes sense in the script with that person it can make sense with other people, too. So that’s the kind of appropriation of not real people, but actors you’re sort of casting in your movie at the start.
Craig: So, Austin, I think what you’re hearing is that everyone is different. And some people do it and some people don’t. And you start with a realization about yourself. I think that’s good enough. You can stop right there. You don’t write those people into your life and are you missing a major tool in your writing? I don’t think so. Because you don’t instinctively feel like you should do it.
I don’t do it. I know that. I never do it. Not out of moral reasons. It’s just not the way my mind works. I tend to daydream and you know like in your dreams there are other people. And those other people say things. And they’re not you. And you don’t know what they’re going to say before they say them, but they all came out of your brain, because you’re dreaming it. So we can do it. So I just try and do that when I’m awake. I do a lot of daydreaming imagining people and what they would do, and think, and feel. And putting myself in their shoes. And that’s how I do it. Everybody is different.
I would – trust your gut on this. If it works for you, great. If it doesn’t, you’re not missing out.
John: So we have one last question on the Workflowy here about open writing assignment and I’m going to actually just skip the question and just ask the folks on this Zoom about their experience with open writing assignments over the last few years. Because you guys have all pursued them. And so I think I might start with Godwin. We also call Etai. So, it’s confusing we’re calling Godwin Etai. We call him both.
Godwin, what’s been your experience pursuing projects that are out there in the world over the last couple of years? How much prep are you doing when you’re going out to try to land one of those jobs? What does it feel like?
Godwin: It’s a lot of work. And most times it’s frustration because it doesn’t go your way. I’ve had one where I prepared a pitch and by the time I went to the meeting to pitch and I got there and they told me that they weren’t doing the thing anymore. Because Disney had bought…
Yeah, like they didn’t bother to tell me all day. And I drove all the way to Burbank. And they’re like, “Oh, you’re here. We should let you know that we’re now longer doing this thing anymore.” So, you know, it’s like that. And then there’s some way you learn to pick the ones that you actually want to do, but in the beginning you’re just going for everything, because you’re like, ooh, I really want to do this.
And so over time I’ve learned that sometimes it’s OK to say I’ll pass on this. There’s nothing in it that I can give to the story. So, but then that takes time and a little getting to know – you will find one that works for you eventually. So, yeah, that’s been my experience. It’s a lot of frustration.
John: Megan, you’ve pitched on these kind of projects, too. How do you decide when something is something you’re really pursuing versus you know what that’s a fishing expedition? I’m not going to try to get that one.
Megan: I think upon reading whatever it is, an adaptation or whatever, I feel like there’s a pretty quick thing of like, ooh, this is something I’m interested in. This is something that excites me. And I feel like you got to have that kind of right away. And maybe not. Because if you do get it, you’re going to be on it for a long time. And if you’re not excited about the beginning, like you’re going to do a better job on something that you are genuinely excited about.
John: Yeah. Stuart? What’s your feeling on OWAs?
Stuart: Yeah, I mean, by the time I am pitching I have to kind of know the whole thing. The difference between prepping for a pitch and writing the project is one more step. So, the work that goes into that pitch is considerable. And I’ve had the same experience as Godwin where like you do weeks of work on something, you love it, and then you find out they killed the project, or somebody else already got the job. Or you go in and you do the pitch, you think you nailed it, you don’t hear anything for three months, and then a Deadline article comes out about some mega celebrity has been signed on and it’s their pet project.
And these days I would say I’m a little bit more protective of my time. But you have to love it. You have to want to do it. You hear about it and immediately it’s like clear my schedule, I’m so jazzed. And otherwise I’m probably not doing it.
John: Yeah. My organizing principle for 2021 has been hell yeah or no. That basically everything has to fall into one category. Either I’m absolutely so excited to do it, or nah. And to say no more often.
Craig: What about Matthew? He’s so quiet and I want to know what he thinks.
Matthew: I haven’t done any open writing assignments, but I’ve done a comparable thing for music a lot. And it is kind of funny, I suppose, how similar those two things really are. Because you’re competing with a lot of other people and there’s so much work that goes into something that you’re probably not going to get. And I’ve had such more rewarding experiences when, you know, you just know that you’re the one. You’re the one they’re going with from the beginning, which is like, of course – of course that would be more rewarding. But it’s tough to go up against a bunch of other people because you don’t know what everyone else is submitting.
And I imagine that’s probably what open writing assignments are like, too. It’s like you’re fighting against this imaginary foe that’s making all the right moves.
Craig: Well, it always struck me about open writing assignments that the only reason they were open writing assignments is because the people who were offering it also didn’t know. I mean, that’s why you do that. Right? They all sit around a room and go, what, who? Who should do this? What kind of person? I don’t know. Well, I guess we’ll just put an ad out in the paper. And everybody at CAA and UTA and WME and all that stuff will just start sending people over.
And so you’re already in a bit of a hole because you’re working hard to try and imagine something, but you’re talking to people who don’t quite know what it is they want either.
Craig: That’s the trick of it.
Stuart: And there’s no feedback usually at the end of the tunnel.
Stuart: Was I the worst you’ve ever heard? Or was I like a coin flip away from getting this?
Craig: They have no time for it. And I know that for myself when we go through casting I would love to be able to call every single person and talk through all of that stuff. I just can’t. I can’t do it. And I imagine that if they did nine out of ten writers would receive that information gracefully, and one would throw a tantrum and then go on Twitter. And so it kind of makes sense.
John: All right, so it is time for a game show segment. When we do our live shows we always love doing our game shows. So this is not a normal live show, but we have a small audience. We have a small audience of former Scriptnotes producers. So let’s welcome on two self-identified super fans who have listened to every episode of Scriptnotes to see how much they actually remember about what we said on the show. Probably more than we do.
First let’s welcome Kate Hadley from Los Angeles. Welcome Kate.
Craig: Welcome Kate.
Kate Hadley: Hi.
John: And Dion Bardeau – where are you living right now Dion?
Dion Bardeau: I live in Los Angeles as well.
John: All right. So we are all LA ringers. Sort of like how Jeopardy! this season has all been LA folks.
John: We’re pulling on very local. We could go anywhere, but we are focusing on our LA folks. When did you start listening to the show, Kate Hadley?
Kate: I started listening in October 2011. So Episode 7, but I listened to all the back episodes in an afternoon.
Craig: Wow. That’s awesome.
John: And Dion when did you start listening to the show?
Dion: So I started, it was in 2012, and it was maybe around Episode 40. It was the episode where you guys talked about how do you get an agent. And then I went back and listened to all the previous ones. But that’s where I started.
Craig: I’m still – I’ve listened to maybe three. [laughs] I’ve heard about three of these. They were good. They were all right.
Dion: You’re missing out, man.
Craig: I know. Believe me, I know. On everything.
John: All right. So we have cameras turned on. We’re going to ask a question. If you know the answer raise your hand and then we’ll call on you. And so we’ll try to be fair judges here, but we also have the other producers here who can be our jury if it comes down to it.
Craig: Do I get to also try and answer? Because I will not win.
John: Well, you can also see the answers though in the Workflowy though. So that’s not fair.
Craig: Oh, tht would be cheating.
John: That would be cheating. Craig, why don’t you ask the first question?
Craig: OK, here we go, guys. Are you ready?
Dion: Let’s do it. Good luck, Kate.
Craig: Good luck to both of you.
Kate: Good luck to you as well.
Craig: So you’re just going to raise your hand and John will call whichever one goes first. Here we go. And it’s not like Jeopardy! You don’t get locked out. But you don’t hear the rest of the question. Over the years we’ve done 15 deep dive episodes where we spend the entire show discussing one movie. What was the first movie to receive this treatment?
Kate: I believe it was The Little Mermaid.
John: That is not correct. Dion?
Dion: I’m going to go with Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Craig: Raiders of the Lost Ark is correct. That is one point for Dion.
Kate. That was my other answer.
Craig: Of course it was. I think I would have gotten that right. .
Kate: That and Ghost.
Craig: I think I would have gotten that right. I think. All right. John, should I just keep–
John: Honestly, keep being the host. This is your Jeopardy! hosting try out.
Craig: This is my audition for Jeopardy! OK. Here we go.
Dion: Well, folks, this has been a good show. I’ll just take the W right there.
Craig: No sir. We are still in the first inning. Here we go. While the show has many amazing guests, the visitor first appeared by name in Episode 136 and was asked by John never to return. Guess if you have to guess. I have a guess. OK, can I do my guess?
Craig: My guess is Sexy Craig.
John: Sexy Craig is correct.
Craig: Yes, Sexy Craig. Yes!
John: So Sexy Craig’s first appearance was in Episode 135 by a voice. My name is John August, my name is Craig Mazin. And that was disturbing. But the next episode you labeled that voice Sexy Craig.
Craig: And Sexy Craig – the thing is he really doesn’t show up much.
Dion: I know. I can’t imagine a world without Sexy Craig.
Craig: Neither can I, exactly. Thank you.
John: I can and it’s glorious.
Craig: Yeah, John lives in that world.
John: It gets so uncomfortable. All right.
Craig: So it’s still 1-0. Here we go. Question number three. Scriptnotes Episode 235 was a live show featuring Jason Bateman and creators of Game of Thrones, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. Weiss and Benioff were last minute replacements. Who was supposed to be the guest? That’s a hard one. That’s a hard one.
John: We’re stumping the super fans. I like this.
Craig: Yeah. This is great. Stumping the supers. I think we’re going to go–
John: Actually, no, we’ll go to the producers. Stuart Friedel, tell us the answer.
Stuart: I think I know the answer. I might be wrong. Is it Lawrence Kasdan?
Craig: It was Lawrence Kasdan.
Kate: I would have never gotten that.
Craig: He was not feeling well.
Kate: Like me, right now.
Craig: Scrambled up and got ourselves the GoT guys. All right, here we go. Question number four. Let’s get some redemption guys. In Scriptnotes 187 Live from New York John and Craig both sing songs. Who was their guest for that show? I was told these were super fans. [laughs]
Dion: I think now, right? Kate, what are we doing?
Kate: I’ve listened to every episode exactly once.
Dion: Every episode.
Craig: I know. Well there you go. By the way, I’ve got to tell you something. I don’t know who the guest was. I don’t know the answer to this. I don’t. I remember that Andrew Lippa was there, but he wasn’t our guest-guest was he?
John: He was our guest.
Craig: Oh, he was the guest.
John: That’s the correct answer. Yeah.
Craig: Oh, Andrew Lippa. OK, great. I thought he was sort of like, oh that’s right, Andrew Lippa.
John: The bonus would be if you could figure out what songs we actually sang. Craig, do you remember what song you sang?
Craig: Yes I do. I sang What More Can I Say from Falsetto Land.
John: Yeah. And I sang a song from Yank, which was a musical that never transferred to Broadway.
Craig: That was it. That was my big Broadway debut and final performance.
Kate: We’re going to get ourselves cut from this episode.
Craig: No, this one, one of you is going to get for sure. Here we go. Of course, the most famous Scriptnotes music is the opening jingle. How many notes are in it?
Craig: Yes. I did the same thing you did. We all did the same thing. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Five is the answer. So I believe we are tied. We are tied at one a piece, which is exactly the way I like things. Here we go. In Episode 212 writer-director Mari Heller talks about her experience making Diary of a Teenage Girl. Craig said her film was better than this film written by Heller’s husband.
Dion: The Andy Samberg movie. I can’t think of it. Kate for the steal?
Kate: Hey Siri…I have no idea.
Craig: I’m pretty sure that I said it was better than MacGruber.
Dion: Ah, MacGruber.
Craig: By Jorma Taccone and MacGruber is actually the second best movie ever made. Diary of a Teenage Girl apparently was the best movie. OK, here we go. Speaking of movie power couples in 2020 John hosted separate deep dive episodes with each half of this duo, each of whom had made movies in awards contention. So we’re looking for – Dion.
Dion: Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach.
Craig: That’s right. For Little Women and for Marriage Story.
Dion: That’s right.
Craig: So it’s 2-1. Dion with two. Kate with one.
Kate: Oh, it’s 2-1. I thought it was like 3-1.
Craig: No, it’s 2-1.
Kate: Cool, so I can still—
John: You can still win this.
Dion: You’re stealing it, Kate.
Craig: Absolutely. Everyone is in it. Here’s another marriage question. John and Craig have mentioned their spouses many times over the 500 episodes. What are their names?
Kate: Mike, Melissa.
Craig: Yes! And we are tied at 2-2 and here’s the best part, there’s only one question left.
Dion: Here we go.
Kate: Oh dear god.
Craig: How can you not be romantic about baseball? Here we go. Oh my god, this is so hard. [laughs] Oh my god. I don’t know the answer to this. What are John and Craig’s Myers-Briggs personality types? Bonus points if you can answer with John’s newest personality test result too.
Dion: Oh god.
Craig: This is brutal. I’m with you. I’m with both of you on this.
Kate: I’m going to have to have to just guess.
John: It’s worth a guess. Worth a guess.
Craig: Listen, it’s the final shot. The clock is counting down. Go for it.
Kate: INFP and can I remember, I think it’s the other one.
Craig: Yeah, I think at this point this is just a fishing expedition.
Kate: Oh, it is. It’s completely–
John: It’s like the open writing assignment of personality types.
Craig: The one you mentioned wasn’t one of them. I think we can say it ain’t happening here.
Kate: Oh no. It’s not happening.
Craig: Apparently both of us were the same Myers-Briggs personality type, which I didn’t realize. We are both ENTJ. Otherwise known as the mad lunatic. But however in Episode 437 John revealed that he had evolved. I don’t like evolved because that makes it seem like you got better than me. You devolved into an ENFP. Oh, you actually flipped two of the things there. So, you’ve changed quite a bit.
Here’s the good news, folks. Because it’s a tie you’re both winners.
John: You’re both winners. So thank you for listening to all those episodes and to give you a chance to listen back to all those episodes we are giving you free lifetime memberships to Scriptnotes Premium.
Dion: How about that? That’s awesome.
Craig: It’s real money.
Dion: That’s fantastic.
Craig: And it’s not costing me anything, I know that much. [laughs]
John: So thank you both very much for listening to the show. It really means a tremendous amount. And thank you for coming on the show and playing this dumb game with us.
Craig: We are nothing without you.
Kate: Thank you.
Dion: Thank you for having me.
Kate: It was wonderful.
Dion: Thank you guys so much. You guys were Master Class before Master Class. You have no idea. Well, you probably do have some idea. I’m sure you’ve helped Kate. You’ve definitely helped me and thousands of others. So thank you. Really appreciate it fellas.
Craig: Thank you, Dion. That’s so nice.
John: Thank you, Dion.
Kate: You guys are my One Cool Thing.
Dion: There you go. Always and forever.
Craig: Thank you, Kate.
Dion: Appreciate you guys.
Craig: Thank you. All right. Keep listening guys. Thank you.
Dion: I will. Take care guys.
Craig: See you later. That was exciting.
John: That was nice.
Craig: That went right down to the wire there, you know, because they were tied and we were going to that last question. I don’t know, I felt the tension of championship on the line. Those were hard questions. Who came up with those?
John: So I came up with most of them. Megana threw in the Myers-Briggs things at the end. And I don’t know if I would have gotten that one right.
Megana: I really thought that was going to be super easy. You guys are both ENTJs.
Craig: I don’t even know if I would have remembered my own.
Craig: Wow. You know what though? That’s what you want for the last. That’s what you want a tiebreaker to be. It’s got to be a real skull-cracker, you know.
John: I really thought they would have gotten the Lawrence Kasdan. That was a big deal and then he actually came back on in Episode 247 to sort of make good on–
Craig: That one felt like more of a gettable one. But you know the one that I was impressed with was Dion getting Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach. That was pretty good.
John: Because those were episodes you didn’t listen to.
Craig: I don’t listen to any of the episodes. You could just say those like all 100, all 499 before this.
Megana: Also, if you guys thought those were hard, just wait for the premium segment because I wrote all of those.
Craig: Oh boy.
Craig: Here we go.
John: Before we get to the premium segment Kate did a great job of setting up our One Cool Things. So my One Cool Thing this week – I may have had it on a previous episode, but it’s so good I want to make sure everybody knows about it. If you are not sleeping with a white noise machine you should try sleeping with a white noise machine. It genuinely will help you.
And, yes, you can do it off your phone but then it just loops and it’s not as good. The best white noise machine is this Electro-Fan White Noise Machine. It is a little electronic device you plug in. Wirecutter ranks it the best. It is genuinely terrific. So good that we actually travel with it rather than using the one on our phone.
So you probably need a white noise machine. You should try it. It just shuts out the outside world completely. So the best one is this little $49 white noise machine. You should get it.
Craig: OK, great. I do use – I use an app on the iPad, I admit it. But I also use ear plugs, so I think the fancier white noise machine value would be lost on me. Also, the nice thing about the app is it gives you pink noise, white noise, brown noise, purple noise.
John: This gives you a choice of sort of what kind of sound you want.
Craig: I like the brown noise. That’s my jam. Here’s my One Cool Thing. I don’t know if we have this in the United States, but I’m here in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. We’re working on The Last of Us. We have a fairly large facility for the production. And we have all sorts of people working on it. And every day there is lunch. And the old way of doing things was somebody would come around, typically a poor, aggrieved PA to say, “Oh, we’re taking lunch orders. What would you like? We’re ordering from these two places. Here’s a menu.” And everyone is like, what, I don’t know, eh. And it takes forever.
And then you go and something went wrong. And everyone has got like a million little changes. So what they do here is they use something called Hunger Hub. And the night before you go on and it shows you there are two restaurant choices and there are a bunch of menu options for each restaurant. And you pick it. Pick it that night. And then it all just happens magically. And I was like what a smart way to streamline a miserable process.
So when we all get back to our writing rooms and real life, once Covid is gone, maybe some enterprising service if there isn’t one already will be doing something like this in the US. Hunger Hub.
John: So like Mythic Quest doesn’t do that for its lunch orders?
Craig: No, I mean, I haven’t been in the room, you know, physically for Mythic Quest since well over a year ago. But, no, it would be the–
John: Old-fashioned way.
Craig: Pass around a sheet and write down what you want from the menu of the thing, and the thing, and the thing.
John: Progress. Canadian progress.
Craig: Progress. Or as we say in Canada, progress.
John: Progress. So if you are a person who has listened to many of the back episodes we would love to have your help. We are coming up with the 500 Episode Listener Guide, so this is an update to our 300 Episode Listener Guide. Megana is actively reading through people’s submissions for what they think are the best episodes, the ones you cannot miss.
She also spearheaded this week this drive to get an index of all the episodes, which has been so helpful, so we can see actually what episodes have Three Page Challenges, or How Would This Be a Movie, who our guests were. So if you are looking at which episodes should I go back and listen to, or I really want the craft episodes, this index will be available to you as well. So we’ll have a link in the show notes to that. But also tell us what you think should be in the Listeners’ Guide. So you go to johnaugust.com/guide and there’s a little form you can fill out to tell us which episodes you think people should really listen to. So do that if you could.
And that is our show. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Special thanks to Dustin Box, Nima Yousefi, Chris Sont, and Amy August for their help this week.
Craig: Oh, Amy August.
John: Amy August helped with the index.
Craig: Oh, are you paying her?
John: I am paying her. I pay people.
Craig: Everybody gets paid.
John: Here’s how this came to be. Mike and I went out to a restaurant for the first time, like an actual restaurant to have our anniversary dinner.
John: And it’s owned by this chef whose son was in preschool with Amy. And when Mike went to the bathroom he’s like oh my god I saw Bruno was working back, he was washing dishes in the kitchen. And I was like, oh, the kitchen of our family business is really tedious data entry. And so Amy did the tedious data entry.
Craig: All right. I hope you paid her well.
John: I paid her minimum wage. I paid her $15 an hour.
Craig: OK. I mean, we did have a series of episodes about how we were aiming for $20 an hour, but OK. I guess if it’s your kid.
John: It’s my kid, yes, so it’s the kid discount. I’ve paid for everything for her entire life.
Craig: You did provide her with everything else.
John: Our intro this week was by the amazing Matthew Chilelli. Our outro, Matthew if you could please play us an outro, the very first outro you ever did for Scriptnotes. That feels like a good bookend for us.
John: If you have an intro or an outro, just an outro actually, you can send us a link to email@example.com. That’s also the place where you send longer questions like the ones we answered today. For short questions on Twitter I am @johnaugust.
You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you find the transcripts and sign up for our weekly-ish newsletter called Inneresting which has lots of links to things about writing.
We have t-shirts, and they’re great. So you should show your pride of 500 episodes with a new t-shirt. They’re at Cotton Bureau. You can sign up to become a premium member at Scriptnotes.net where you get all the back episodes and bonus segments. That’s also where you can hear our producers make fun of me and Craig for not understanding the show that we’ve done 499 episodes of in this segment we’re about to record.
So thank you to all of our producers and Matthew for coming back for this special 500th episode. And thank you everyone for listening.
Craig: Thanks guys. 500 episodes. Amazing.
John: Megana Rao, you are in charge of the podcast from here forward. So take it away. What do you want us to do?
Megana: OK. So we have a trivia game for you.
Craig: Oh boy.
Megana: And it is a mix of Scriptnotes trivia, but also as we talked about in that discussion on your friendship there’s a little bit of The Newlywed Game. So it’s a little bit also of how well you two know each other and have been listening to each other. And then we have a sprinkling of Stuart-written, Stuart-centric questions that are also in here.
Craig: Oh. OK.
Stuart: I thought I specifically didn’t want to get too Stuart-centric.
Craig: Well, no one cares, Stuart.
Stuart: Stuart-ed it out. All right.
Megana: I feel like Stuart lure is a big part of Scriptnotes.
Craig: It is.
Megana: So I felt like it had to be in there.
Craig: It is. OK, well I’m very excited. I hope I lose. I’m going to lose. I don’t have to hope.
John: I’m nervous.
Megana: So there’s certain questions that are just specifically targeted for one of you. But for the other ones you guys can raise your hands.
Craig: I see. We will raise our hands if there is a competitive question.
Megana: Cool. And then the producers and Matthew each have three or four questions that we will ask and I wish you both the best of luck. So, we’re starting with Stuart.
Craig: Oh, god.
Stuart: What location does Craig frequently refer to as his sacred place?
Craig: I’ve raised my hand.
Megana: You can answer that one.
Craig: The shower.
Megana: Correct. I wanted to start off easy.
Craig: Thank you. I have a feeling that that’s a set up. A total set up. I’m going to go down in flames now.
Stuart: Question two. You’ve done 17 episodes where you dissect one movie and nine where it’s just the two of you analyzing a movie. Can you name seven of these deep dives?
John: I’m going to try this first. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Aliens. The Little Mermaid. Unforgiven. Die Hard. If we’re going to count Marriage Story and Ghost.
Craig: Yes. See, we help each other.
John: We help each other. What were the other ones? What did I miss?
Stuart: Raiders, Little Mermaid, Groundhog Day.
John: Oh, Groundhog Day, yeah.
Craig: Of course.
Stuart: Ghost. Whiplash. The Addams Family. Unforgiven. The Princess Bride. Clueless.
Stuart: And the Christmas bonus episode on Die Hard.
Megana: Wait. I don’t believe that we’ve done an Aliens deep dive.
John: I think we’ve always meant to do one and we didn’t do it.
Craig: Yeah. I was thinking, man, I really don’t know this show very well because I don’t remember that at all.
John: It was a dream I had. A fugue state.
Craig: It was a dream.
Stuart: Question three in the highlighted Stuart section. In the Scriptnotes Wikipedia article it says that Stuart’s voice was never heard on the show except for Episode 259, The Exit Interview. This is in fact incorrect. When else was Stuart heard on the show?
John: Huh. Well you probably said something during a live show. I feel like there was going to be some moment at which you stood up in the audience where I acknowledged. So I bet we’re going to hear your voice there. But I’m trying to think of another example of – I don’t think you read any questions aloud or anything.
Craig: I would have said at the Christmas show I think we might have made him say something. Like I’m Stuart. But I can’t remember.
John: Or like, no, I’m Stuart, or I’m Stuart.
Craig: Oh that I’m real or something.
Stuart: You’re conflating a few things but you’re definitely on the right track. At one point – there are a few Stuart doppelgängers in Los Angeles and at one point we had the idea to get all of them in a row and to all stand up at the live show and wave. I think only one or maybe two showed up, but still we had the effect of three bearded redheads.
But there was an episode, according to this it was the 124 Q&A from the Holiday Spectacular. And I got on stage and I know that because my parents have a photo from that.
Craig: Of course they do.
Stuart: On their living room table or whatever.
John: You know, really we should have brought on Stuart’s parents as the Scriptnotes super fans because they are–
Craig: I know. Up until the point where Stuart stops producing it. And then we never listened to it again.
Stuart: They’re fans. My dad. My dad certainly listens.
Craig: He’s a dentist.
Stuart: He’s dedicated.
Craig: He’s a dentist.
Stuart: And maybe the rest of you have had the same experience, but my parents know nothing about what I do for a living. And Scriptnotes has been a very nice – they can speak some of the language now.
Craig: My parents have never listened to it either. So it’s genetic.
Stuart: I will point out though that my wife has been a voice on the show many times. More than me.
Craig: Ah, reading questions? Or–?
Stuart: Originally back in the day when you would have an article you were talking about or discussing and you wanted to do the reenactment, she would be the female reenactment voice.
Craig: Right. She was the only woman we knew. Those were different days. All right. Well we kind of bombed out on that one. All right, what’s next?
Megana: Next up we have Matthew asking the questions.
Matthew: Question four. Which two guests have come on to specifically talk about sex on screen?
John: Craig had his hand up.
Craig: I think it was Dan Savage and Rachel Bloom.
Matthew: That’s correct. That’s correct.
Craig: It is correct. See, John doesn’t get it.
John: What about Rachel Bloom? Rachel Bloom came on specifically.
Craig: I said Rachel Bloom. Dan Savage and Rachel Bloom.
Megana: Can you do episode numbers John or Craig?
Craig: Oh wow, really?
John: So, yes, Dan Savage. But I was thinking actors. So I was thinking it should be Rebel Wilson and Rachel Bloom. That would be my answer.
Craig: Rebel Wilson was part of the dirty show. So she didn’t really come on to talk about sex.
John: That’s fair.
Craig: She just came on to be a bit bawdy.
John: She was bawdy. She was mostly talking about shitting in a beret.
Craig: Correct. Which is the best thing I’ve ever heard in my life. But Dan and Rachel very specifically we were talking about all the fun bits and parts.
John: All right.
Craig: I feel great.
John: You’re actually beating me. So you should feel great.
Craig: That’s not why I feel great.
Megana: I mean, well John this one is specifically for you.
John: All right. Let’s see if I can get it right.
Matthew: Question five, John. What scene does Craig frequently refer to as the hardest he’s ever laughed?
John: Wow. What’s the hardest that Craig has ever laughed. Maybe it’s MacGruber where he’s offering sex to get out of something?
Craig: That’s a great scene. And happens multiple times in MacGruber. But that is not the answer.
John: What is the answer?
Craig: Well I have two that I refer to. I don’t know which one I refer to more than the other. But one is the naked fight in Borat and the other is the puppet vomiting in South Park Team America.
John: That’s the right one, right?
Matthew: Yeah, it’s Team America, the puke scene.
Craig: Yeah. Just the funniest thing.
Matthew: 286, 481, and 387.
Megana: I just got tired of citing the episode. It’s multiple episodes.
Matthew: Possibly more.
Craig: Possibly more.
Craig: I mean, it’s amazing.
Matthew: And question number six for Craig. What is the first project John pitched on?
Craig: How to Eat Fried Worms.
John: That’s impressive.
Craig: I know my guy. I know my guy.
John: Bonus if you can answer what did I bring to that pitch meeting?
Craig: I don’t know, so I’m going to guess that you brought – because I believe it was in like a sandwich. Maybe you brought a sandwich with worms on it.
John: I did bring a Styrofoam container of worms that I dumped out on a plate for that.
Craig: Did you eat one?
John: I did not eat one. But they were worried I was going to eat one.
Megana: Did it go over well?
John: It went well. Yeah.
Stuart: Like living worms?
John: Yeah. Living worms. From a bait store. I had to drive to Santa Monica. There’s not a lot of bait stores in Los Angeles. So.
Craig: And when you got there they were like pitching on the open writing assignment for How to Eat Fried Worms?
John: That’s what it is.
Craig: The ninth nerd that came in here this morning. Exactly. We know you’re not a fisherman. We know that.
John: No. You can just look at me. I’m not a fisherman.
Craig: Yeah, you’re in the Writers Guild. OK, feeling good. Feeling good.
Megana: All right. And next up we have Godwin.
Godwin: My first question is what is the name of the sandwich Malcolm Spellman ate after recording Episode 185? And I can give you a hit. It’s from Mendocino Farms.
John: A sandwich study in heat?
Craig: Wow. I would have never in a million years. Wow.
John: The only reason I was pretty sure about that answer is because the Malcolm Spellman episode is titled A Study in Heat.
Craig: Ah. Do you know I once watched Malcolm eat an entire sleeve of Mint Oreo cookies? And the best part of it was while he was eating them, this was at my house, he was halfway through the sleeve. He said, “I hate these. I hate Mint Oreo cookies. I hate them.” And I’m like but why are you eating them? He goes, “I don’t know.”
And then he gets to the bottom of the sleeve and I’m like, dude, you’re going to be sick. And he goes, “No, it’s not even as much as you think. It’s like 250 calories.” And I’m like no it’s not. And he goes, “Yeah it is.” And I’m like, no, no, that’s per serving, not per sleeve. And he’s like, “What?” You have to imagine deeper, “What?”
And so he had eaten essentially like 2,000 or 3,000 calories worth of Mint Oreo cookies that he did not like. We talk about that a lot in my house. It was a great day.
Godwin: All right. Next question. Who were the first two Scriptnotes guests? John?
John: I think it was Aline and Derek. Derek Haas.
Megana: Craig, are you going to steal?
Craig: Give me a moment. Momentito. I’ve got nothing.
Godwin: It’s Franklin Leonard. And Aline.
John: And Aline, OK. That I guessed.
Craig: Franklin. Oh wow. I thought maybe Aline would have been like a trick, like a trap to fall into. But, all right, interesting. We both whiffed.
John: I very much believe that. But I’m also mesmerized by the idea of what if Franklin and Leonard were different people.
Craig: Oh, Franklin and Leonard.
John: Yeah. Wow. The power they would have.
Craig: The world of people with two first names is funny.
Stuart: Were they on one episode together or was it?
Megana: Episode 60. They both came together.
Godwin: The next question is for Craig. What was the marquee feature of the Highland software?
Craig: I believe it was to melt PDFs.
John: Nicely done.
Godwin: And for my last question. There was a short-lived segment called Change Craig’s Mind. What was the first and only topic discussed? Yes John?
Craig: Oh my god. That’s amazing. So, first of all, I wish we would bring that back.
John: We have to. Megana, please, put that on top of the Workflowy. We’ve got to bring that back.
Craig: That’s amazing because it’s such a challenge to change Craig’s mind. It’s a challenge. And I have – my feelings about ventriloquism have only deepened. My anger about it, my just general resentment that it’s considered–
John: An art form.
Craig: Entertainment. An art form? [laughs] I just get angrier about it by the day. OK, we have to bring that back. That’s a wonderful idea.
John: What’s so good about that segment is that you’re basically an anti-vaxxer when it comes to ventriloquism. Like the more facts we give you the deeper you dig into your bunker there.
Craig: Yeah. Because it’s like if vaccines actually were boring and pointless then I would be an anti-vaxxer. But they’re amazing and they save lives. Unlike ventriloquism, which is boring and stupid.
Stuart: Is it topics that you want your mind changed on?
Craig: I don’t come up with them. That’s the thing. I didn’t come up with that. It just happened.
Megana: Do we have a score count? So we’re moving on to Megan and–
Craig: Oh god. Was anyone keeping score? I wasn’t keeping score.
John: I wasn’t keeping score.
Stuart: Is there a prize for the winner?
John: I think Craig may be slightly ahead though honestly.
Craig: Do I get a free lifetime, because I pay the $6 a month, I do. I get charged $6 a month, so I’m hoping I get the free one.
Megana: We’ll think about it.
Craig: Fair enough.
Megana: All right. Megan, you’re up.
Megan: Question 11. On September 13, 2014, Stuart Friedel wrote an email based on a discussion in Episode 108. On September 10, 2018 at 3:02am, five years later, that email came through to the firstname.lastname@example.org account. What was the discussion that you wanted to check in on?
John: Huh. I think the dates might be meaningful. But I don’t know.
Craig: The first date was what year?
Craig: And the second date was what year?
Stuart: Something there, it says five years later.
Megan: It does say five years later.
Craig: OK. That’s why I was asking.
John: So five years happened.
Craig: It was a five year checkup. This feels like something that the initial, my gut tells me that the initial email was something he was angry about. I don’t know why. I just feel like he was indignant and was thinking to himself you guys, five years from now, you’ll see. And he was probably right. But I don’t know what it is.
John: It could have been a situation where we may have asked on the show for – let us know five years from now sort of what happens. But I can’t think what the specific scenario was.
Craig: We don’t know this.
John: Tell us. We don’t know this.
Megan: It said, “Dear John’s current assistant. Please look back on Scriptnotes Episode 108 where John and Craig discussed the future of iPads in movie theaters and remind them that this next episode is to address the five years later of it all. Sincerely yours, John’s current, 2013, assistant.”
Craig: Yes, that’s right. Got it. So this wasn’t about Stuart’s indignant. This was a disagreement that John and I had about whether or not iPads and the use of them would become prominent in theaters with children. And what we didn’t know was that nobody would be in theaters. Not only would there not be iPads, or there wouldn’t be humans.
Craig: That’s right. I forgot that one. That was a good one.
John: I’m happy there are not iPads in theaters. I could have envisioned a scenario in which that happened and it would have been worse. But not worse than a pandemic.
Craig: No. No.
John: So if I had to choose iPads in theaters versus a global pandemic that killed millions.
Craig: I don’t know. [laughs] I’m on the fence.
Craig: I’m on the fence. OK. Next question.
Megan: Question 12. In Episode 240 who do you decide would win in an all-out brawl to the death, John or Craig? And why?
John: I said that Craig would win just because he would be just savage and he would not stop.
Craig: I think I probably said the same thing about John. That John would win because he would clamp down or do something really like vicious that I wasn’t expecting. Maybe like a neck bite.
Megan: Per Megana the answer is Craig, because he’s angry and heavier, but most importantly because he would not hesitate. There would be no pause.
Craig: That’s true. That’s true. You don’t have any advantage if you don’t use your advantage. That’s the thing. You’re right. So I got to get him on the ground fast is the key. I got to get John down on the ground.
John: If we were in a Zombie apocalypse scenario and needed to say like, OK, if I get bitten you need to kill me, I would tell Craig to be the one to kill me because he would do it.
Craig: Oh yeah.
John: Do it for the good of the group. Yeah. He’s the one you want to pick.
Craig: No, I would do it even before. Even before you got the sentence done.
Craig: I always joke like that with Melissa. Because you know that Michael Haneke movie where he has to kill his wife with the pillow because she has Alzheimer’s? It’s the most beautiful Oscar-y movie ever. And I’m like I’m going to do that to you. And she’s like–
John: That’s how much I love you.
Craig: When she walks in she’s like, “I cannot remember where I put my keys.” And I’m like pillow time. That’s enough. [laughs] That’s all I needed to hear. Let’s go. Come on.
Megan: Question 13. Who is the credited producer on Episode 17 of Scriptnotes?
Craig: Ooh. OK. Well, so the implication is that it’s pre-Stuart, so I’m going to say Nima?
John: I’m going to guess Carlton [Miniacus] who was – it was a pseudonym that was being used.
Stuart: Did we fact check this one?
Megana: We did.
Stuart: Because I wrote this question, but I wasn’t certain of the answer.
Craig: I can’t wait to hear what the actual answer theoretically is.
Megan: The answer is there’s no credited producer, because it was before Matthew, and so Stuart was credited as the editor.
Craig: Oh, so it was a trick question.
Stuart: I actually thought you guys would get this because of the spoilers. We discussed this in the opening.
Craig: Well that’s the thing. I thought that maybe there was some random person.
John: Being so specific, because we didn’t start crediting you until what episode?
Stuart: I don’t know. But this was the exact – if you read in the Google Doc this is the exact discussion we’re having. It originally was Episode 5. We decided that it would be more of a red herring if we used a more “random” sounding number.
Craig: I see.
Craig: So this was just a set up to humiliate us. I understand.
Craig: Fine. Done. Achieved.
Megana: OK, final round. John, what recent meme shares a name with Craig’s family member?
Craig: That’s great.
John: I don’t know what the recent meme is. I can’t think of a Jessie or a Jack or a Melissa.
Craig: Can I steal?
Megana: OK, Craig, you can steal.
Craig: My sister’s name is Karen.
John: Ooh, that’s right.
Craig: My sister’s children call her “a Karen” all the time. It infuriates her. It’s wonderful. She’s never asked for the manager, by the way, ever. Not once.
Megana: So in an early episode, Episode 2, you both declare blank as the death of all screenwriters.
Craig: Both declare blank as the death of all screenwriters? Ooh. Go ahead.
John: So like lack of limitations, or freedom in a way?
Megana: Craig, do you want to do a guess?
Craig: Wildly different guess. Focus groups. Movie focus groups.
Megana: The correct answer is children.
Craig: Oh, we said it before.
John: Obviously, yeah.
Craig: That’s correct. Yeah. Stuart gets it now. It’s the death of all screenwriters. They just hollow you out from the inside.
Stuart: I like my kid personally.
Craig: Just wait. [laughs]
John: Just wait till that kid can get out of the crib and actually find you.
Craig: Just wait. Oh, the places you’ll go.
Megana: OK, we are at our last question.
Craig: Buckle up.
Megana: I want you both to close your eyes, meditate on your lives, your careers, almost a decade, 500 episodes of Scriptnotes. What is your favorite quality in Megana Rao? Just kidding. I’m just kidding. You guys can email me afterwards. OK, the real question is what is your favorite quality in your cohost?
Craig: This is, now it’s just going to be about tears.
John: Yeah. I would say that Craig is just remarkably good at winging it and just speaking extemporaneously about whatever topic without any real preparation at all. And so it’s not that he hasn’t thought about these things before, but he can just actually articulate clear, cogent thoughts without any preparation and make it seem so effortless. And with me I feel like I’m Taylor Swift where all I do is try, try, try.
Craig: [laughs] But Taylor Swift is hot. You know? And super successful. So I think that works out great.
John: So it works out well for me, too.
Craig: It works out well for you. I would say that I think the thing that I appreciate the most in John and have for a long time is that he is empathetic in a logical way. Because there’s this mushy, weepy spirituality empathy and I’ve said many times on the show I literally don’t even understand what spirituality is. I don’t know what the word means. Any time people try and explain it to me I’m just like religion right. And they’re like, yeah, but no. And I’m like nah, it is.
But John has a very logical kind of empathy and that has I think – it’s rubbed off on me. I think I’ve learned from it. Because I respect it. And he makes the idea of kindness and acceptance and making your first choice the benefit of the doubt choice in a rational way. I’ve learned from that. And I’ve definitely – he’s been a good model for me because my first choice typically was just to destroy.
It’s my second choice. I don’t want people to think that it’s not there anymore. It’s right there. It’s right behind it. But, yes, I would say that for sure.
John: Aw. Thank you Craig.
Craig: You’re welcome.
Megana: Well thank you both for playing. You’re both winners.
Craig: I feel like a winner. I’m so glad I got anything right. I was terrified.
Megana: I guess Craig is kind of the winner because he had the upset a bit.
John: Yeah, he did. But still.
Craig: Kind of the winner is the best I’ve ever been. Kind of a winner.
John: I think we were the winners to have such amazing producers and editor.
Craig: Segue Man.
John: Here with us today.
Craig: Yes, we are the beneficiaries of all of you. And your hard work. And you make us sound good. You make us look good. Definitely make me sound and look good, because I don’t, you know–
John: And I’m always just so happy and proud to see your smiling faces and to see you guys kicking ass out there.
Craig: Exactly. That’s awesome.
John: So thank you for being so awesome.
Craig: Yeah. And there’s been like marriages and children and all these wonderful life changes that are happening. Look, we do another 500 of these.
John: Another 10 years. Wow.
Craig: At that point I fully plan on being in the hover chair from Wall-E. But you guys will still be vital members of society. [laughs]
John: And I’ll be begging Megan to get me a job working on some Marvel project.
Craig: Yes. And my wife will come to me with the pillow and be like. It’s time. It’s you that gets the pillow, my friend.
John: All right. Thank you all so much.
Craig: Thanks folks.
Stuart: Great seeing you guys.
Megan: So nice to see you.
- Find out more information about the The Scriptnotes Book
- Review the past 500 episodes at The Scriptnotes Index
- Stuart Friedel on the web
- Godwin Jabangwe on Twitter
- Megan McDonnell on IMDb
- Matthew Chilelli on Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud, and the web
- Megana Rao on Twitter
- Get a Scriptnotes T-shirt!
- Gift a Scriptnotes Subscription or treat yourself to a premium subscription!
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Outro (and intro!) by Matthew Chilelli (send us yours!)
- Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao and edited by Matthew Chilelli.
Email us at email@example.com
You can download the episode here.